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Lucy Lawless with mic

“Never Look Away” Delivers Us to War’s Front Lines With Fearless Photojournalist Margaret Moth

(Robin Marshall/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Patty Consolazio

If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to march fearlessly into the proverbial lion’s den, Margaret Moth can show you the way. Never Look Away, which premiered January 18 in the World Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, offers a fly-on-the-wall view of the intrepid Moth as a CNN wartime photojournalist who stations herself squarely in the epicenter of life, love, and peril. 

As a former actor in television’s Xena: Warrior Princess now working behind the scenes, Lucy Lawless brings her directorial debut to this year’s Festival, offering a glimpse into Moss’ adult journey starting in Houston, Texas, 7,500 miles from her enigmatic childhood home in New Zealand. The free-spirited, pipe-smoking Moth spends her days living, tripping, and loving in hyperdrive — boring people need not apply.

Lawless was caught off guard by the request to film Moth’s documentary. “I got a kind of a cold call; an email from Joe Duran, who was in the film as Margaret’s best friend and the heir to her estate, which was a suitcase of memories and a few treasures in there, and he said, ‘Do you want to make a film about Margaret Moth?’” Lawless recalls, in the post-premiere Q&A session.

“Yes! I will find the money! I will get this movie made! I will find the producers!” she exclaims. “Then when I pushed send, I said, ‘Oh my god, who am I to say this! I’m not qualified to make those promises. I’ve never done this before.’ But… I’ve been owned by Margaret ever since.”

Candid, colorful interviews with friends, colleagues, siblings, and romantic interests shine a light on Moth beyond her lust for life and her bravado, painting a picture of a tender, sometimes insecure woman whose passion for filming the worst of humanity might be as much about stirring up outrage as it is about being in the action. 

To Moth, the world needs to see her footage, lest we all go about our business and mocha lattes, oblivious to the atrocities being committed around the world. Rwanda. Kuwait. The West Bank. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lebanon. Georgia. Saudi Arabia. Wherever she goes, she unflinchingly captures the violence and suffering inflicted on innocent civilians. 

The indomitable Moth commands both ends of her camera with gusto. Here’s a woman who smoked cigars with U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf. Who also stood and filmed an active shooter while other crews hid behind cars, thus capturing the only footage of a massacre. Her colleagues know that when they can’t find her, she’s behind her camera, filming something big and often terrible. 

And when everything changes for Moth in one fateful moment, she is left to reconsider her priorities and determine who she will be going forward.